Does Jak & Daxter stand the test of time? Find out why Naughty Dog's transitional trilogy stands up nicely as part of the developer's blockbuster catalog.
After the success of developer Naughty Dog’s Crash Bandicoot games and before the smash-hit Uncharted series, there was Jak & Daxter. Now, just about 10 years after the release of the first game in the trilogy (Jak & Daxter: The Precursor Legacy), the trilogy has been given a hi-def facelift. This is hardly the first HD collection that Sony has released, having given similar treatments to the Sly Cooper series and Ico/Shadow of the Colossus.
The tale revolves around a young man named Jak who holds a mysterious connection to the Precursors, a long-extinct race who may just hold the key to all existence. Through youthful hubris, Jak’s friend Daxter is thrown into a pool of Eco (the life blood of this particular universe…think water but all sci-fi) and transformed into an ottsel—weasel/otter hybrid—and the duo sets off on an adventure to set things right.
At first, the core gameplay didn’t stray far from traditional platforming mechanics (think Mario) and “collect stuff” quests, but once Naughty Dog found its voice, the Jak series grew into some of the greatest games of the last generation.
With Jak 2, we find the central characters have been thrust into the more mature themes of fascism, dictatorship and guns—big guns. Borrowing heavily from nonlinear titles like Grand Theft Auto III, the open-world sequel has our heroes join the underground fight against the evil Baron Praxis (it’s an apt name; trust me), heartless ruler of the dystopian Haven City. As if things weren’t bad enough within the unforgiving metropolis, horrifying monsters known as Metal Heads are amassing an army just outside the walls, and they’re dying to kill everyone and everything inside.
After discovering his own origin and sticking it to the Baron, Jak and Daxter (who has remained an ottsel despite his and Jak’s best efforts) are banished from the city and must survive the harsh Wasteland in Jak 3. Further revelations continue to complicate Jak’s existence and a couple of gasp-inducing plot twists are masterfully revealed. We finally learn the fate of the Precursors are given a satisfying conclusion to the insanely fun story. There’s no way around it—these are absolutely incredible games.
For those who played the games at the time of their respective original releases, the nostalgia factor cannot be overlooked. The core mechanics and imaginative guns are a blast to revisit, and everything from getting back on Jak’s hover-board and busting off tricks to competing in hover-car or desert buggy races is still thrilling. The sheer amount of dialog is impressive, and before you know it you’re lost in an engaging world full of endearing characters. Jak 2 and 3 up the ante from the Precursor Legacy in nearly every area imaginable, and to spend more time with such iconic gaming heroes is an invitation that must be accepted. Newly added trophy support doesn’t hurt, and it’s interesting to remember that Naughty Dog has always had a knack for storytelling.
While the HD upgrade is a welcome addition, all three games show their age at times when it comes to frame rate, pop-up, character modeling and challenge. Older games can sometimes fall victim to sections of extreme difficulty that will have you seething with rage and throwing controllers after you’ve attempted (and failed) an objective upwards of a dozen or more times…Jak is no exception. The camera angels can sometimes be less than helpful, and some of the pre-rendered buildings or objects just look kind of weird. Most of us have grown accustomed to regenerative health, and seeking out med-packs can often remind you that Jak’s a little dated, new paint-job or not.
The Bottom Line
It is possible that gamers under a certain age will cringe at the old-school aspects of the Jak series. These gamers should keep in mind that some of us were brought up playing Pong and Yar’s Revenge, so they will probably live. Aged graphics should ultimately be considered a high-class problem, and younger gamers interested in a little bit of last-gen history might want to at least give this title a rent. If you played through these games way back when, or if you’re looking for a semi-retro (not, like, Missile Command retro, but you know what I mean) experience, the Jak & Daxter HD Collection provides plenty of content and tremendous value.
Developer: Naughty Dog
Publisher: Sony Entertainment